In early 2016, Voyager Espresso, a new specialty coffee bar, opened in a subway concourse of the Fulton Street station, in Manhattan’s Financial District. Local architect, Only If, was commissioned to develop an innovative architectural and interior design for its initial retail location in this unusual underground site.

Voyager Espresso, with its integration of an artistic and scientific approach to coffee, is a welcomed addition to the lagging food scene of the Financial District. Its rotating menu features seasonal, fresh crop coffees from the best roasters in the United States.


In contrast to the artisanal aesthetic of contemporary coffee culture, the coffee shop’s design and material palette refers to the namesake spacecraft and scientific approach behind Voyager Espresso. “From the beginning we knew we wanted to avoid the clichéd language of white tile, reclaimed wood, and exposed Edison bulbs,” explains Only If. “The material palette we developed is inexpensive yet futuristic.”


The walls are clad in oriented strand board, which is transformed through the application of aluminum enamel paint. Work surfaces consist of black marble countertop, which plays off the texture of the walls. Elsewhere, perforated aluminum, copper, and black rubber are used.


The design of the small space is based on the organization of two circles: one for service (the Barista Station) and another for seating (the Grotto). The Barista Station can be read as a positive volume, whereas the Grotto can be read as a negative volume excavated from the surrounding walls.


Practically, the layout consolidates the storage and back of house at the rear of the space, and maximizes visibility of Voyager Espresso along its glass storefront to the subway concourse. The layout creates a variety of different social settings for seating, from individual to collective, intimate to exposed.

The design team worked closely with the client to integrate custom coffee equipment and refine the ergonomics of coffee making and service.


“The circular bar design allows for two baristas to work simultaneously and seamlessly through two points of sale. The barista does each transaction from start to finish. This helps to make the service more personable,” says Aaron Barnard, Owner of Voyager Espresso. Through its unique design, Voyager Espresso is redefining coffee culture in New York.


all images © Michael Vahrenwald | Esto